It is difficult to describe Shylock as a victim or a villain as there are many things that you can say for each. At the end of the play some of the audience may felt strongly that Shylock is a victim. However if had been able to get what he wanted people may have felt that he was more of a villain, if he had been able to get his pound of flesh. Throughout the play he has been very much a victim, but has also been quite a villain in parts of the play, and to some of the people who are close to him. To start off with him being a villain, he is a villain to Antonio, as he wants him dead. As this is one of the opening scenes the audience must feel that Shylock is a villain, but they should also be able to see his reasons for it.
‘You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog,
And spit upon my Jewish gabardine,’
(Act 1, Scene 3, Line 106-107)
Antonio has also spat on him, and kicked him, just because he does not have the same religion as Antonio, but the things Antonio does to Shylock are really nasty. Even worse, Antonio admits he has done these awful things, and he will very likely to do it again.
‘I am as like to call thee so again,
To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too’
(Act 1, Scene 3, Line 125-126)
Antonio also takes away a lot of Shylock’s business and money as he lends money out to people without any interest. Even though Antonio has done all these things to Shylock, I still cannot see, and the audience must feel that it is not enough for someone to take someone’s life away from them. Why does Antonio do these awful things to Shylock, because Shylock is a Jew! Don’t Jews have normal feelings, don’t they have the same eyes, eat the same food, hurt with the same weapons; Isn’t Shylock a normal person like anyone else.
‘If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
us, do we not die?
(Act 3, Scene 1, Line 57-59)
Shakespeare really wants this speech to stand out, as it is a key speech to show that Shylock has feelings, and to be able to understand what he is feeling. All Jews are normal people, all they want to do is to be treated fairly, and they should not have to be picked on, or spat on, or even kicked on from people who are not Jews. As a 16th century audience would be viewing this, they would not see Shylock’s point of view, and they would not feel his feelings, as a 16th century audience did not care about Jews then.
Then Shylock’s life takes a turn for the worse when he realises that his only daughter, or maybe people may agree, his greatest possession, has left him for a Christian, and stole from him under his nose, when she stole his money. Even worse Jessica is changing her Jewish religion to be a Christian. Now Shylock is a lonely man as he has hardly anyone, he only has Tubal, apart from Tubal; no one is on his side. All he has left is his money, but what can money buy? Money certainly cant buy happiness, and Shylock realises he is a lonely man, and there is nothing he can do to change that. From knowing this you have to feel that Shylock is very much a victim, and he is not going to be able to reach back up to the top again. You can tell from this quote that Shylock is going to be a very lonely man, and that he cares about his money more than his own daughter.
‘Of double ducats, stolen from me by my daughter!
And jewels, two stones, two rich and precious stones,
Stolen by my daughter! Justice! find the girl;
She hath the stones upon her, and the ducats.’
(Act 2, Scene 8, Line 19-22)
Hearing this, it totally changes the way in which people see Shylock, from being a very lonely man, and being a victim to a quite an evil man. Even though his daughter has run away from him, and stolen from him, he could still forgive her and still have the relationship as before, even if it is against his religion, he would be able to do it for his daughter, but Shylock would rather have his money and his jewels back, than have his daughter. Now he appears not to care about his daughter at all, but he has his pride.
When the play gets to the court scene, you can tell from Antonio’s strange behaviour, and what he says, he just wants to get a it over with and basically let Shylock win, so he will get his pound of flesh.
‘Let me have judgement and the Jew his will.
(Act 4, Scene 1, Line 83)
When Shylock enters the courtroom, you can tell that no one is on his side, and he has no friends, as even the Duke does not call him by his real name.
‘Go one and call the Jew in to the court.’
(Act 4, Scene 1, Line 14)
You may even feel now that Shylock won’t even get a fair trial, but everyone is going to try and find a way possible for Shylock not to get Antonio’s pound of flesh. Later on in the court scene Portia, as Balthazar, starts teasing with Shylock by almost telling him that he can get Antonio’s pound of flesh, by saying things to Antonio
‘You must prepare your bosom for his knife’
(Act 4, Scene 1, Line 243)
You may however feel that Portia was not teasing with Shylock, and that she could just not find a way around the bond. Maybe Portia got the idea for Shylock not be able to take any blood from Antonio’s body from when she asked if there could be a surgeon, and Shylock said it was not in the bond. I strongly feel and the audience might feel that Portia would not have come down and taken the role of the judge if she could not of think of a way out for Shylock not having to take Antonio’s life. Now that Shylock thinks he is going to get what he wants he now starts praising Portia.
‘O noble judge, O excellent young man!
(Act 4, Scene 1, Line 244)
When Portia decides to tell everyone her way in which Antonio can escape his death, and leave Shylock with nothing, things start to go terribly wrong for Shylock.
‘But in the cutting it, if thou dost shed
One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods
Are by the laws of Venice confiscate
Unto the state of Venice.
(Act 4, Scene 1, Line 307-310)
Now from hearing this Gratiano starts taunting Shylock and making fun of him, by copying what Shylock said that it is in Antonio’s favour.
‘O upright judge!
Mark, Jew- O learned judge!
(Act 4, Scene 1, Line 311-312)
Even worse for Shylock when he thinks he can just leave without having to take Antonio’s pound of flesh, and just take the money Portia tells him that he can’t.
‘That by direct or indirect attempts
He seek the life of any citizen,
The party ‘gainst the which he doth contrive
Shall seize one half his goods, the other half
Comes to the privacy coffer of the state,
And the offender’s life lies in the mercy
Of the duke only, ‘gainst all other voice.’
(Act 4, Scene 1, Line 348-354)
This means that Shylock has attempted to kill Antonio, which Shylock could now be hanged, and will lose all his possessions. Now Shylock’s life is at the lowest point, and you cannot see Shylock’s life turning around. Gratiano starts being really nasty to Shylock.
‘Therefore thou must be hang’d at the state’s charge.’
(Act 4, Scene 1, Line 365)
At this point in the play I don’t think Shylock really cares what happens to him, until Antonio has another shock for Shylock
‘Two things provided more: that for this favour
He presently becomes a Christian.’
(Act 4, Scene 1, Line 384-385)
Now Shylock has lost everything and even his own religion, also he has to give all his possessions to Lorenzo and his daughter, who ran away from him, and left him on his own. Now, as Shylock has to become a Christian will everyone now be nice to him?
In the end Shylock got left with nothing, and from seeing all this, you have to agree that Shylock has rightly been a victim, as from losing everything, to his possessions to his daughter, and even his own religion. However you have to look at this both ways, if Shylock went through with the bond and actually took a pound of flesh from Antonio, Shylock would be very much the villain. I feel that Shylock has been badly treated, as he should be treated the same as everybody, despite his religion, I also feel that Shylock would not of wanted to kill Antonio, if Antonio had done nothing to Shylock in the first place.
For the audience viewing this in the present they can see that Shylock has been badly treated, and has been a victim, and can see his reasons for wanting to kill Antonio. People today are still prejudiced, but that is only a few minorities of the people, and even still it probably won’t happen to the extent of what happened to Shylock, and Shylock would not get treated the way he did. However, when the audience saw the play when Shakespeare was alive, things were a lot different. The stunts that happened to Shylock were normal, and the audience had to feel that he was very much a villain in trying to kill Antonio, and he deserved what happened to him.